Ladies Who Lead

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Ruth Ellen Whitt
Executive Director of Leadership Texarkana

Ruth Ellen Whitt

Ruth Ellen grew up in College Station, TX, enmeshed in the world of Texas A&M from Wee Aggieland kindergarten days due to her father’s administrative roles at the college. Puzzling solutions, supporting other’s journeys – AND pursuing joy from song, dance, theatre – were family values.

“Dance is a personal passion. As a child, I was privileged to study ballet from two former dancers of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo…one degree of separation from dance legends such as Fokine. Our recital’s “Les Sylphide” was from the original. I found out as a twenty-something-year old that when I was about eleven years old my dance teachers had suggested to my parents that I should go to NYC to audition to be part of the New York City Ballet school, which they had never told me about. Hard choices for parents! “

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College included years as a Theatre major at Texas Tech as well as at University of Texas-Austin, transforming into BS and MA degrees in Speech Communication, with teaching and clinical credentials as a Speech Pathologist.

Four years of subsequent doctoral studies in UT-D doctoral interdisciplinary Communication Disorders program (all but dissertation) yielded a focus on the dynamics of learning, human behavior, communication and of effecting change.

Whitt is married to Dr. David Whitt since her Austin days, they theb moved to Texarkana in 1983 for his practice as a Head and Neck Surgeon/ ENT. Together they have two wonderful daughters, both grads of Pleasant Grove High School, and five beautiful grandchildren.

In her 34 years in Texarkana, I have been involved in many organizations and initiatives, all with cross-stateline focus, and all progressions of her prior personal journeys. She was part of the founding boards and early leadership of TexRep, TRAHC’s Women for the Arts, and the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra; She worked as part of TRAHC’s leadership staff for over fifteen years, leading community communications at a critical juncture, as well as developing and growing ArtsSmart II, then serving as Executive Director for almost a decade.

Whitt’s cross-stateline perspectives and problem-solving within the broader Texarkana community began within the Junior League of Texarkana, with service as chair of the Community Research/ Project Development Committee, Community Vice-President and President. Community issues thinking was deepened through participation in the Leadership Texarkana class of 1989, and in leadership roles in LT throughout the 90s, until work at TRAHC consumed her time. The Community Cultural Planning led by TRAHC in 1999-2001 was a natural merging of both perspectives. Since contracting with Leadership Texarkana to lead the organization in 2010, her community involvement has been most directly related there.

She is passionate about the potential of good people to do great things by being intentional in their thinking and actions… But even more than that, she is passionate about the power of the arts – well taught – to produce the creative, invested, well-equipped citizenry and workforce we say we want.

“The passion comes not just from personal opinion, but from decades of unequivocal research–identified aptly as a penicillin-strength medicine for what seems to plague us, that is inconceivably left on the shelf.”

Whitt explains that the many “wonderful assets we enjoy due to the generosity and wisdom of those who’ve come before, and those who continue to invest in them – I’ve been to a lot of other communities our size, and have never seen a Perot Theatre along with an exquisite Regional Arts Center, AND an Ace of Clubs House, AND a beautiful Post Office, and first class educational opportunities, and parks, and programs… Texarkana IS a community of excellence, and it is the people who make it that way.”

Velvet Hall Cool
Family Owned Land Surveying Company
Board President, Texarkana Museums System; Board of Directors, Literacy Council of Bowie & Miller Co.

Velvet’s two biggest motivators have been her mother, Pat Hall and her 17-year-old self. She strives to do and accomplish those things in her life that would have made them both smile and feel pride. Both had core beliefs based on a sense of fairness or equality and a tremendous ability to fight for those that they loved.

Velvet is passionate about family and friends. Of course, her eight grandchildren top off the list – but she very much a “ride or die” friend once you’ve touched her heart. You just have to know how to tolerate her intense sarcasm.

She explains that community fuels her pride in Texarkana. “While not perfect, our community has a tremendous ability to band together when needed. It’s a fluid community that constantly asks what improvements can be made and what changes will make a difference.”

She went on to also explain, “I’m a much softer person inside than people normally give me credit for being. My mom named me Velvet because she dreamed I was going to be as soft as brown Velvet and I really am. “

TyRhonda Henderson
Finance Director, City of Texarkana, Arkansas

Tyrhonda Henderson

Henderson finds her greatest joy in serving others. As one of the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of her life, she walks in servitude on a daily basis.

Henderson’s roles as Wife, Mother, Daughter, Finance Director, Youth Director, and Youth/Community Activist require her to give selflessly.

Henderson was born and raised in Ashdown, Arkansas to Nettie Elvy and Bobby Willis. She received her Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Accounting from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas and her Masters of Business Administration from Webster University in Little Rock.

For the past six years, Henderson has worked in the Finance Department of the City of Texarkana, Arkansas. In 2015, she was promoted to the Finance Director.

“Working for the City has provided me with the opportunity to serve the citizens of Texarkana, Arkansas. I often have to remember, I work for them.”

Since moving back to Ashdown in 2011, her family has grown. On September 17th, she married Jeffery and together they have two boys, Myles who is 4 and Carter who is 1.

“These three make my world go ‘round. I never knew how rewarding loving and taking care of another person could be until I became a wife and a mother. It doesn’t hurt that I have a husband who loves his wife the way Christ loves the church and the sweetest babies in the world.”

Henderson is a strong believer that young people are ‘OUR’ retirement plan.

“It is important that we invest in them. My roles as Youth Director at the Bethlehem Baptist Church and developer of the youth/community outreach program WORTH, require me to make a great investment into ‘OUR’ retirement plan. It’s important that we lead our young people to Christ and build upon that solid foundation.”

Margaret Lynn Whitt
President of WFA

Lynn Whitt is a housewife and volunteer as President of Women for the Arts and President of the Dogwood Garden Club.

“I was born and raised in Bryan/College Station and yes my blood runs maroon. Gig’em Aggies!”

Lynn married Paul Whitt in 1980 and they have had 37 years together so far. Paul is an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon by day and an avid musician and artist by night.

The Whitts have two sons, one married and the other getting married in December.

“When the boys were younger I spent my days volunteering at their schools. And with friends, I ran a lot of concession stands for soccer, football and baseball games.”

Whitt is passionate about her family and friends. She also enjoys cooking for family gatherings and sitting around the table talking about life.

“Since Paul and I are empty nesters we love having the kids come back home but let me be honest, I love having time with Paul all to myself. And I love to bowl it’s not uncommon for me to go to my parents home in Hot Springs Village and bowl 15 games in just a few days. I will take every opportunity to go bowling. And I love girl time. I have an amazing group of girlfriends that I adore. There is never a dull moment when we are together.”

She is also very passionate about Women for the Arts.

“I have met so many incredible women and men through this organization. This will be my 3rd year as president and I love it so much. They may have to kick me out before I want to give it up. As president I enjoy seeing a new adventure become a reality. I love the progress of witnessing a group of volunteers work together towards a final outcome. I am extremely proud of the WFA board, we work very hard for our big fundraiser, Party with Picassos. This past year we had a party of over 500 people and we were able to give $135,000 to the Texarkana Regional Arts & Humanities Council (TRAHC). This was incredible team accomplishment.”

Texarkana has been the Whitts home for the past 18 years and they think it has been a great place to raise their boys.

“I am very thankful to live in a faith based community with great schools, wonderful churches and amazing people. I look forward to watching and being a part of all the improvements taking place in downtown Texarkana.”

Kelley Crisp
assistant criminal district attorney, BCDA,

Kelley Crisp

Crisp is President of Ark-La-Tex 100 Club; member, board of trustees, Williams Memorial United Methodist Church; member Texarkana Bar Association; past member of Junior League of Texarkana; past member, Komen Race for the Cure committee

She was born in raised in Booneville, Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville with degrees in journalism, advertising/PR and law.

She met her husband in law school and moved to Texarkana in 2007 to practice law.

“Bobby Lockhart and Jerry Rochelle offered me the opportunity to prosecute felonies on behalf of the State of Texas in 2010, and it has been my privilege to seek justice and to advocate for the state and on behalf of crime victims and their families since then.”

Crisp’s family and her work are her passions, above all.

“Beyond those priorities, we witnessed a series of attacks against law enforcement in 2014 and 2015 that led several friends to consider what we could do, here, to support our men and women in uniform. Out of this desire to back those who protect us, the Ark-La-Tex 100 Club was born. We are privileged to furnish non-budgeted life-saving equipment to local police and fire departments. Additionally, should a local law enforcement officer or fire-fighter fall in the line of duty, the Ark-La-Tex 100 Club will immediately provide financial support to the family. We believe there is no greater love than a willingness to lay down one’s life for his friends, and will support our local law enforcement and fire departments for their bravery, courage and professionalism.”

She also emphasized how blessed they are to live in Texarkana.

“We live in a community where so many individuals and companies invest their time and resources to serve our neighbors in need, where so many people live with open hands, demonstrating that fulfilment is found in service. Our people make us good and mark us as a distinctive community. We have a unique place shaped by the dedicated effort of thoughtful men and women; a place where we are able to live out the incredible freedom we inherited as Americans. I’m grateful to live here and for the opportunity to participate in justice and in service.”

Liz Fazio Hale
Executive Director/CEO of Riverbend Water Resources District

Hale recently moved back to Texarkana and is discovering the many opportunities for giving back to this community.

“Currently, I am a member of St. Edwards Catholic Church and am looking forward to participating in the fellowship of the Williams School at WMUMC where my son has started the Mother’s Day Out Program. I am a proud member of Leadership Texarkana Class of 2016-2017, which has provided me the opportunity to learn about the exciting efforts to keep Texarkana USA great! I love the arts and recently joined TRAHC as a member. I have been an active member of the Junior Leagues of Denver, CO and Austin, TX and look forward to being a sustaining member in the Junior League.”

Hale is a homegrown resident of Northeast Texas, where her family lived for over 30 years in the “Corley-Bottoms” between Simms, Maud, and New Boston, Texas.

She is married to Caleb Hale, who works at Cooper Tire. Together, we have two children, McKenzi and Holt Hale, and we care for my adult sister, Rosie Fazio.

She graduated from New Boston High School in 1998 and attended the University of Texas at Austin, receiving dual degrees in Communications and Government.

“Hook’em!”

“I originally set-out to pursue a career in broadcast journalism but when I learned that the average starting salary was around $12,500 a year, I changed my focus to law.”

Hale attended the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, receiving a juris doctorate in law and a legal masters in taxation. Despite her love of the Rocky Mountains and great outdoors in Colorado, Hale returned to Austin, Texas to work at the Texas State Capitol where she worked for over 10 years and developed a niche in water policy.

“Now, I am back in Northeast Texas using my background and expertise in communications, government, law, and water policy to help our region protect, preserve, and plan for our water resources.”

Hale is extremely passionate about water issues locally, nationally, and internationally.

“I feel that there is something sacred about water that literally binds all of us together. Think about it… there is no other single substance that makes-up more of the body or the planet than water! From a religious standpoint, water can exist in three forms (solid, liquid, and gas) like the trinity (father, son, and holy spirit); we use water for baptisms and blessings; Jesus walked on water and parted the seas; communities have been built around water; and wars have been waged over water. In Northeast Texas, many citizens and landowners can relate to the “water wars.” I passionately believe, however, that there is room for compromise and sharing this precious resource is possible for everyone. This becomes more possible when we are educated about our options and chose to plan for our future, instead of letting others plan for us.”

Hale is proud to live in a community that values middle-class, hard working values. In Northeast Texas, Hale was not born into privilege.

“I was taught that hard work and persistence create opportunities, not your last name. I am blessed that we live at a “crossroads” of our state and the nation that is ripe with prosperity and that through grit and character an individual can achieve the unthinkable.”

Lynn Cofield
Owner/Founder Barbell Butterfly. The only women’s weight loss and fitness program in the Ark-La-Tex!

Lynn Cofield

Cofield is working to make Texarkana a healthier community! Barbell Butterfly provides a scholarship fund at Texarkana College for women returning to school.

“Three years ago, I lost 123 lbs over 19 months just by learning how to eat clean and lift weights. My weight loss journey completely changed my life! Before I was overweight, isolated and depressed and now I feel like I could ANYTHING!! I developed my Barbell Butterfly program so I could teach other women how they could change their lives too!

Before I Barbell Butterfly, I was a Registered Nurse. Since Barbell Butterfly, I have obtained my Personal Training Certification and am also a Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach.”

She is absolutely passionate about empowering women to become healthy, lose weight and find their confidence!

“My own weight loss experience was so powerful and life changing, it lit a fire inside of me to teach other women how they can do it too! “

Cofield grew up here in Texarkana and she is proud to still be a part of this community full of incredible people!

Jessica Higgs
 4th grade writing teacher at Westlawn Elementary.

 

Jessica Higgs


Jessica Higgs is beginning her eighth year as a teacher, six of which she taught in my hometown of New Boston, and this will be her second year as a TISD Tiger at Westlawn.

She is also ecstatic to be one of the New Member Co-Chairs with Kelsey Reynolds for The Junior League of Texarkana.

“We are thrilled to welcome new leaders into the League. My journey with The Junior League began five years ago, and I am so thankful that a teaching friend introduced me to this outstanding organization of community volunteers. Among working and raising families, the ladies of The Junior League give of their time and themselves to provide the children in our community with opportunities and services that strive to promote their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social growth.”

After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from The University of Texas at Tyler, she returned to my hometown of New Boston, TX to teach for six years.

“I felt the Lord drawing me to Texarkana. My church, friend group, The Junior League, and soon to be my new work family made the move an easy one. The first few months were a whirlwind between buying a house, teaching in a new school district, and finishing my Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist, but the Lord provided through His strength and the support of family and friends. This was a small move, but certainly the best one I’ve ever made.”

Servant leadership and education are Higgs two greatest passions,  As a teacher, she is able to give her time, effort, and heart to help her students become successful both in education and as a person.

“I hope to impart to them that, when they lead by example and put others before self, they show humility and kindness which encourages others to do the same.”

“One of the most outstanding qualities I’ve noticed in residents of Texarkana is their willingness to help and encourage one another. Whether it be through the support of our schools, local businesses, or a community in need, our city rallies together to lift one another up.”

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